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In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

The robots in the holy city and in the Silver Arrow had reacted quite differently. Perhaps these robots down below had received somewhat better training, Pucky surmised, not entirely groundlessly.

“I—ah—I want to know where my—hm—companion is.”

“The great lord?” The robot seemed to know exactly whom Pucky was referring to. “He will return. Does my master wish to take a bath?”

“The Galacteers probably did nothing but eat and take baths, huh? Very well, a bath for me. But a warm one, please. With music.”

“With music,” affirmed the robot, turned around and went out of the room.

Pucky stared helplessly after him.

Ten minutes later the mousebeaver was washing off the dirt of the past few days in a huge basin. The water was comfortably warm and had an agreeable scent. From hidden loudspeakers issued soft, electronic music. An orchestrated ablution, as Pucky had desired.

The robot had disappeared with his spacesuit and his underwear. When he returned the laundered clothes, they smelled all fresh and new as if they had just been purchased in a store.

Pucky was slowly beginning to enjoy all this. But worry over Homunk took precedence. As he was dressing with the help of the robot—the servant could not be restrained from lending a hand—Pucky asked him: “Where, then, is the great lord, John? I have to know, d’you hear?”

“I can’t say, but he will return.”

Pucky gave up. The bath had not only refreshed him but had put him in good humour. If the funny robot didn’t know where Homunk was, he would have to make a search himself. It wouldn’t be long before he’d find him.

First thing, he found the broken-in door and the two fighting robots who bore unmistakable signs of Homunk’s laser gun. It was a sign that took Pucky a bit farther. At least to the shaft. Here there arose the question of whether Homunk had gone up or down.

Down, of course, Pucky decided after a moment’s thought. Homunk would already know what was on the surface.

Pucky teleported downwards.

According to his estimate, after a few short leaps, he materialized at about a depth of a thousand meters, which amounted to about a half kilometre below the upper layer of the planet’s metal core. The robots had driven their mining operations this far down. Harno was right when he said that the entire centre of the planet was made of metal. The walls of pathways and the rooms through which Pucky passed shimmered silver, sometimes yellowish or almost black. Sometimes he had to duck out of the way of mine cars that seemed to be steered by ghostly hands as they drove to the shaft where they emptied their valuable loads into the cabins of the conveyor belt.

Once he found a sign of Homunk’s presence. The android had broken open a side door, behind which there was a machine storage room. There was no other exit and Homunk was no longer there.

Pucky did not stay here long. He guessed that the machines were remote-controlled for he met no robots. In the hallway once more he continued in the same direction and paid particular attention to any signs that might point to Homunk’s previous presence.

He found none but suddenly heard footsteps. Quickly he hid himself in an empty mine car that stood on some sidetracks. It wasn’t very bright here below but one could never tell how well the robots could see. In any case, the general dimness indicated that the robots were used to artificial light and had no arrangements for infrared.

Pucky listened. Something caught his attention but he didn’t immediately know what it was.

Then he suddenly understood: these were no single footsteps but the steps of an entire marching column. They did not come toward him but went off in the opposite direction. It was a weird sound, here, a thousand meters underground.

Pucky climbed out of the mine car and continued on his way. To make greater headway, he teleported ahead a bit. The steps grew louder. Only now it occurred to him that none of the mine cars were operating any more. They stood fully loaded in the hallways but they did not move.

One leap more and he saw the robots.

There were about two dozen of them, three abreast, and they were marching toward some unknown goal. Not one of them looked around, so that Pucky could get to within a few meters of them.

And then he became aware of something else: the robots could be distinctly told apart from those he’d met on the surface of the nameless central planet. They were sturdier, nearly square, and had two powerful, five-fingered hands. As far as Pucky could determine, they were all unarmed.

The column marched steadily towards a huge door that cut off the hallway. The door opened automatically. Before it closed again, Pucky, too, slipped through—and stopped as if nailed to the ground.

He was looking out upon a huge hall with high ceilings and smooth walls. Flat and powerful machines were set into the floor, behind which rose iron bars and electrical equipment. The light was brighter here than in the hallways.

But that wasn’t what astounded Pucky.

It was Homunk.

The android was standing on a mighty block of metal as on a podium. In front of him, filling the entire hall, were more than 1000 worker robots. They were looking expectantly at the oval screen whose controls were within Homunk’s reach.

Pucky squeezed himself into a comer so he wouldn’t be easily covered. He was sorry he couldn’t understand the symbol language of the Galacteers but he could guess what was taking place here.

After the religious revolution, Homunk was trying to start a second one. The revolution of the workers.

6/ SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE

At the speed of light, the EX-238 was approaching the only planet of the lonely yellow sun.

Maj. Koster had ordered the ship to be put in combat readiness. All the crew were at their stations. Admittedly the former heavy cruiser was short-handed but automation made up for that.

Iltu and the mousebeavers had volunteered their services but Koster declined with a smile. “It isn’t necessary,” he assured Iltu. “We have enough people. I would rather you’d try to establish telepathic contact with Pucky. We don’t know what to expect on the planet nor what has happened there. We don’t even know whether Harno’s information was correct.”

“Why should he lie?”

“Maybe the sphere was just plain wrong.”

“Harno’s never wrong,” Iltu maintained. “Are we going to land?”

“If no one prevents us, yes. In any case, because of the interference in the radio equipment I can’t ask for the usual permission to land. Besides which, no one knows whether the robots could even understand us.”

The navigation officer came up to them. He made a wide circle around Iltu. The crew of the EX-238 had plenty of experiences with the mousebeavers. And they hadn’t always been pleasant.

“Sir, our distance is two light-hours. Should we keep up our present speed?”

“Right now, yes. No observations? No Silver Arrows?”

“Nothing, sir. They’ve been sighted all over the Milky Way, but here, where their home base is supposed to be, there apparently aren’t any. If I could make a comment, sir…”

“Comment away, Lieutenant.”

“It looks as if the Silver Arrows have withdrawn to their home base. Perhaps they’re waiting for us.”

“How could they know we’re coming?”

“Homunk, sir.”

Koster nodded slowly but was looking at Iltu.

She said nothing.

The door to central control opened. Wullewull came strolling in, his fur in frightful disarray as usual and his uniform sloppily put on. “Iltu, I want to go back to Mars,” he piped with a plaintive face and sprang in one leap onto the comer couch that used to be reserved for Pucky. But now Wullewull could indulge himself. “This Ooch is a braggart, a show-off, a coward, nothing but a common…”

Iltu threw Koster a helpless look, went to Wullewull and patted his back. “Trouble because of Biggy? Why don’t you keep your hands off his girl? Look, there’s Fippi. I know she’s secretly wild about you and your excellent abilities. I won’t come right out and say she’s in love with you but at least she finds you interesting. More interesting, in any case, than Ooch. And Fippi is very pretty, you must admit.”

Wullewull was all ears. He squatted down and looked penetratingly at Iltu.

“She’s wild about me and finds me interesting?”

Iltu nodded earnestly.

“More interesting than Ooch?”

Again Iltu nodded.

Wullewull slid slowly from the couch, drew himself up to his full height of one meter, smoothed his fur hastily and stated: “You’re right, Iltu. Fippi is a beautiful girl. I can’t understand why I’ve preferred Biggy. Biggy’s a nothing. I can’t understand what Ooch sees in her. But he’s always had strange taste.” Head held high, he strutted out of central control and forgot to close the door from pure excitement. Iltu did it telekinetically for him, then she looked at Koster.

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Categories: Clark Darlton
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